Ezra walked by the police station, trying to determine how he could infiltrate, conduct reconnaissance, and execute a covert exit, all without being recognized in a place that would undoubtedly have his description. 'They probably have a 'wanted' poster of me at the front desk,' Ezra thought amusedly.
Then, Ezra saw a few men in uniforms step out of a car. They weren't cops; they were custodians! Part of their uniform was an unadorned blue baseball-style cap. Ezra walked closer to the two men, who seemed to be arguing.
"Quit yelling at me!" the shorter of the pair said. "You heard the boss. He said he'd have a replacement for Pedro meet us down here."
"Yeah?" the taller one sneered, "and when's the last time Marco ever followed through? I swear; if I have to do the men's locker room all by myself one more time--"
"Excuse me?" Ezra interrupted the taller man's complaint. "The boss didn't tell me to come down here until just a few minutes ago. Sorry if I'm late..."
The taller one smiled. "That sounds like Marco all right. Where's your uniform?"
"Uh..." Ezra cursed himself silently. He should have had an answer ready.
"Let me guess," the shorter one said, "the prick sent you down here without one?"
"Well--" Ezra explained.
"Steve here always keeps an extra in the van," the shorter man continued. "Go ahead and change in there."
New Ezra nodded and climbed in. He heard Steve say, "Giving away my stuff, Jimmy? Just 'cause we're cousins doesn't mean you can pull something like that."
"Hey," Jimmy replied, "you're the one who didn't want to do the locker room. Let the new guy handle it on his own."
"That reminds me," Steve said. Raising his voice, Steve called out, "Buddy! You got a name?"
'Certainly, sir,' Ezra thought sarcastically. 'I am Ezra P. Standish. I'm the alleged dirty Federal agent whose real name should be Evil Partner Escariot after the world's most infamous traitor. Perhaps you've heard of me?' He silently finished dressing and then leaped from the vehicle. "Stan H. Davids," he answered out loud, inwardly groaning as the middle initial escaped. That was not the sort of answer a part-time janitor would have given.
"What's the 'H' stand for?" Steve asked, slightly suspicious. The new guy didn't talk like any career-long minimum wage laborer he'd ever met.
"Horace," Ezra answered, knowing that he had chosen the initial while thinking of Houdini, in the hopes that the name would share the man's talent for escape.
Jimmy smirked. "Well, hell, we got ourselves a Stanley Horace Davids. Tell me; is there a number in there someplace?"
Ezra shrugged. "The third," he said shortly. "Are we planning on working sometime today?" Ezra let an edge enter his tone, conveying that his name was the only legacy his parents had given him.
"Okay," Jimmy said, spreading his hands in a pacifying gesture, "take it easy, Stanley. Follow us."
Once inside, Ezra was given a mop and a bucket and told to clean the men's locker room. Without complaint, he headed in that direction, glad to be free of witnesses. As he passed one room, Ezra heard his own name. He intentionally spilled some water from his bucket when no one was looking and mopped it up while he listened.
"--is back in town," said an authoritative voice loudly. "Now, you all know in what high esteem we hold this scumbag. So, in addition to the satisfaction of catching this guy before the Feds do, I'm donating a bottle of twelve-year-old scotch to whoever brings him in. Keep your eyes open, people. That's all."
Ezra ducked his head deferentially as cops poured out of the briefing room, carefully pulling the hat's bill low over his brow. None of the officers recognized him. He slowly pushed the bucket and mop deeper into the station until he found the room he was looking for.
The door was simply marked Records, but Ezra knew there was more than that behind the looked door. There was the key to his friend's death and his own acquittal.
Ezra was disappointed by the effortlessness with which he was able to pick the lock. Three officers had passed by; they must have seen him by the door, but the uniform gave him anonymity. It was something to consider in the future.
The room was long and narrow, like an entire library crammed into the confines of an alley. Remembering the details from his dream, Ezra walked directly to the boxes of the night in question. He took out the pictures and negatives that had captured the speeding car on film as it blew through the red light. He took one copy of the picture, license plate enhanced to legibility, and also the negatives, not wanting anyone to be able to claim he had doctored the photo.
Ezra put the box back in its place, pocketed the photos and left the room, locking it on his way out. As he rounded the corner, Ezra saw two officers chatting and a man in handcuffs. The officer who was responsible for the offender was young, inexperienced, and he was distracted by what the other officer was saying.
The prisoner was fiddling with his handcuffs. Suddenly, they came free and the former prisoner grabbed the older officer's gun, pulling the younger officer in front of him as a shield.
"Damn it, Freddie," the older officer said, worry apparent in his voice.
"Back off," the criminal said, following his own advice, heading backwards toward Ezra, who had not been spotted by any of the three men.
"You know this is stupid, Henderson," Freddie said reasonably. "Where will you go?" Ezra could not believe it. Was this the same officer from the night of Dave's murder? Even if it was, he couldn't let the boy be hurt.
"I'll tell you where I'm not going," the criminal replied heatedly. "I'm not going to jail!"
Ezra walked up behind the criminal and his hostage. He caught the older officer's gaze, silently ordering the policeman to not give him away. Ezra, not breathing, reached around, drew Freddie's gun, and placed it to the criminal's temple.
To say the criminal was surprised would be the understatement of the year. The criminal said, "What the hell?" and turned toward the pressure of the gun Ezra was holding. Freddie used the distraction to disarm the criminal and take him back into custody.
The next thing Ezra knew, the older officer was pointing a backup piece at him. Ezra smoothly disarmed. "I was merely trying to help, officer."
The older officer nodded, retrieving the weapon without once glancing away from Ezra's face. "I know. I'll have to take your statement before you get back to work, sir."
Ezra did his best to look abashed. Janitors, after all, were rarely called 'sir.' "I suppose I could spare a few moments, officer. Lead the way."
+ + + + + + +
"Josiah, who's next?" Chris asked. He, Vin and Josiah were interviewing all of Standish's former coworkers. Chris had insisted that Buck only interview people Standish knew outside of the workplace; he didn't want a sexual harassment suit coming back at them.
"Charles Solomon," Josiah replied. "We could make him come to us for the interview, but I doubt our headquarters would be sufficiently intimidating."
"The alternative is ta give him home court advantage," Vin noted.
Chris tapped on the steering wheel as they sat at a red light, and then executed an illegal u-turn when the light turned green. "We'll go to him," he said, heading for the Federal Building. "Maybe he'll respect our boldness enough to let something slip."
"That is highly unlikely," Josiah said, closing his eyes as though pained when Chris pushed the van through a turn at dangerous speeds and rocketed down the next street. "Standish was one of his protégés. He wouldn't betray a student."
"I don't recall his name comin' up in the course of the investigation," Vin stated, almost as a question. "He testified to what a good man Standish was at the trial, but that didn't help much with the case they had against Standish."
"That should tell us something in and of itself," Chris said grimly, but refused to elaborate. He pulled into a barely legal parking space and marched into the Federal building, Vin and Josiah following.
+ + + + + + +
Chris stared at the most prominent picture on Charles Solomon's office wall. Josiah had taken a seat in front of Solomon's desk while Vin preferred to lean against the door, keeping secretaries and visitors out; and Charles sat at his desk, enduring the silence Chris had subjected him to--after exchanging greetings--with no outward sign of impatience. Chris tried to learn something from the photograph, which had Solomon and Standish at one corner, Solomon standing in the instructors' single row at the back, Standish in the last row of trainees, and Solomon keeping a protective hand on Standish's right shoulder. Standish's smile was genuine, the younger eyes not haunted by his present crimes.
"So, you used to be an instructor at Quantico?" Chris asked.
"Yes, I taught there. Ezra was in the group of trainees I taught there," Solomon replied. "Then I was transferred here."
"When did you see him last?" Chris continued, expecting an answer of somewhere over a year ago; there were no records of Solomon visiting Standish in prison. That was strange behavior for a man claiming to be the convicted former agent's friend and mentor.
"Who, Ezra?" Solomon said.
'No,' Chris thought acidly, 'Elvis,' but he only replied "Yeah."
Solomon toyed with a pen on his desk and then said, "Fine...I saw Ezra this morning."
Josiah chuckled, Vin's brow drew down, and Chris moved quickly across the room to take the remaining seat facing Solomon's desk. "You saw him this morning?" Chris repeated, disbelievingly.
"He stopped me in my car," Solomon said matter-of-factly. "I gave him some money."
"Where was this?" Josiah inquired.
Solomon spread his hands helplessly. "Outside the gym I use."
"Did he ask you for help?" Chris took up the line of questioning.
"I volunteered," Solomon said, "offered him a place to stay, but he wouldn't accept it. He warned me that I could be under surveillance and would not give me any information on how to reach him.
"How much money did you give him this morning?" Vin asked from his post at the door.
Solomon sighed, belittling the answer. "A couple of bucks; whatever I had on me."
"He won't get far on that," Vin asserted.
"Why do you think he came back?" Chris interrupted; eager for clues.
Smirking, Solomon said, "He didn't tell me that, Marshal Larabee."
Chris wondered at Solomon's sudden respectful behavior, but pressed on. "That's not what I mean. I'm sure that he's trying to protect you from having to lie for him, of course, but..." Chris exhaled. Solomon probably wasn't going to speculate; it could lead to Standish's capture, and Solomon obviously viewed that as a negative. "Agent Solomon, if you really want to help him, you really want to be his friend, you're going to help us bring him in, unharmed." Chris emphasized the last word, but saw amusement instead of fear enter Solomon's eyes.
Solomon chuckled. "Why?" Then his features became serious. "So he can go back to prison and be executed?" Solomon tsked, shook his head, and leaned forward, clasping his hands on the desk. "If you want help, gentlemen, you've come to the wrong man. Ezra is innocent. You'll never find him," Solomon continued, monotone, "he's too smart."
Chris also shook his head. "You underestimate my team, sir. We're pretty smart too. I mean," Chris laughed nervously, "how smart can he be, really? Is he as smart as you?"
Solomon pursed his lips, considering the answer, and then shook his head and uttered a single word. "Smarter."
+ + + + + + +
Vin was certain Chris was going to give himself a heart attack, stroke, or hernia, whatever it was that happened because of a fierce temper. Maybe it was high blood pressure he was thinking of. Yeah, that must be it. He and Chris had responded immediately to the police department after receiving a call.
"I hear you're looking for Standish?" a mysterious voice had said from the other end of the line on Chris' cell phone.
Vin had answered it because Chris was driving. "Sure, why?"
"We," the voice stuttered, "that is, I think we...might have lost him. Can you come down to the sixth precinct, please?"
That had been half an hour ago. They had just arrived a few minutes ago, and already the vein at Chris' temple was pulsing.
"Let me get this straight," Chris said in a deceptively calm voice, "a man, dressed as a janitor, was involved in a shooting, and all you did was take his statement?"
"Well," Officer Kane insisted, wilting, "technically, no shots were fired, but, yes, I just let him leave. I didn't recognize him; it was Freddie's old partner Janus who saw him leaving and gave chase. Standish lost him in a dead-end alley."
Chris glared, then spun on his heel and strode across the room, quite clearly wanting to put his hand through the wall in frustration, but knowing it wouldn't make a difference.
Vin interrupted; he figured this was the only chance Chris would give him to ask a question. "And this Freddie; how is he?"
The officer smiled. "That man gave Freddie the chance to break free and recapture Henderson. Standish saved that boy's life."
After Vin recovered from hearing that a cold-blooded killer had saved a police officer, he inquired, "Do you have any idea why he was here?"
The officer they were questioning shrugged. "He's crazy?"
"Nah," Vin clarified, "not crazy, just wily."
"What?" Officer Kane could not believe the soft-spoken Texan's assessment.
The man in black, Marshal Larabee, sighed and rubbed his forehead. "Vin's right," he affirmed. "Standish may be insane, but he isn't stupid. He wouldn't come here just for the thrill of evading the law. He would consider it a bonus, but it would not be his main motivation. Vin?" Chris tilted his head toward the door, indicating the hall where Standish had staged his heroics.
Vin nodded. "I'm on it, Chris," he said, and started to leave.
Officer Kane looked at Vin and then at Chris, confusion etched in his features. "He's on what exactly?"
The look both men fixed Officer Michael Kane with had him questioning his own intelligence.
"We think he might have come here for information," Chris stated slowly, as if for Officer Kane's benefit.
"So, I was going to check that hall; see if anything was missin' or had been tampered with," Vin concluded. The pair of marshals looked at each other, and then Vin nodded and left the room.
Officer Michael Kane realized he'd been gaping, openmouthed at Marshal Larabee. "Excuse me, sir," he stammered, "but when did you have that conversation with Marshal Tanner?"
"Just now," Chris said, completely unperturbed by the officer's befuddled state.
"Right," Officer Kane said skeptically. "Well, if you don't have any other questions, there are some reports I should be doing..."
Marshal Larabee nodded. "Leave your contact information with me, in case we need to talk to you again." Michael Kane did so and then beat a hasty retreat, glad to be free of the room where he was inarguably an outsider.
Chris shook his head and chuckled. He was just as confused as Officer Kane, if not more so. He had been close with the men on his SEAL team; they had used silent communication all the time, but that had been with hand signals. With Vin, a look--often identical looks--conveyed entirely different meanings for different situations.
Going to catch up with Vin, Chris smiled. While he didn't understand how it worked, he was glad it did. As he walked down the hallway, Chris saw an open doorway and the figure of his friend sprawled on the floor beyond. "Vin!" he cried out.
"I'm fine, Cowboy," Vin replied, standing up. "I was looking for what he left behind."
Chris glared, inordinately relieved that the sniper was okay. "What makes you think he left something behind?" He snorted. "For that matter, why do you believe he was even in this room?"
"Door was locked," Vin said quietly, studying the boxes of files intently. He walked over to one section and squatted down, pulling one box out. "I almost couldn't tell it'd been picked before. He is very good."
Chris closed his eyes, prying for patience. "Don't tell me you broke into the police department's records."
Even though Vin had his head buried in the box, Chris knew the Texan was smirking. "Sure thing, Cowboy," Vin drawled. Then he stiffened, pulling out a file that was neater than the rest. "This is what he was after," Vin stated confidently.
Chris shook his head, choosing to disregard the methods by which they had gained entry to the room. "You know this is the right box because..." he prompted.
"It's the night he was arrested, and this precinct is the one that responded that night," Vin said, opening the file and taking out a set of photographs. "Hm, the negatives are missing. You know what that means?"
"Yup," Chris said, leaning lightly against one of the shelves, "he doesn't really trust us."
Vin laughed. "That might have somethin' to do with the fact that you chased him off a dam, Cowboy."
Chris glared, but Vin wasn't looking. It wouldn't have mattered anyway; Chris had discovered much to his chagrin, that Vin Tanner was immune to the Glare. Dropping the look, Chris replied, "He's not scared of me."
Vin looked up, staring at Chris in mock surprise. "I hate ta tell ya this, Chris, but fight-er-flight is triggered by fear, an' you made him fly."
Chris muttered a few choice words under his breath before explaining his earlier statement. "When you, Buck and JD talked to Ellie Matheson after school," Chris asked, referring to the follow-up interview the threesome had conducted, "what, in your opinion, was Standish's greatest fear? Don't say death," Chris cautioned, "because I don't think he was running away from his execution."
"Nope," Vin said, holding up the photo of a black, late model Chrysler sedan, "he was runnin' toward this; he just doesn't trust us with figurin' out who killed his partner."
Grimacing, Chris agreed, gave Vin one of those looks of silent communication, and then went to find the shift manager to tell that officer about the theft of evidence. By the time Chris reached the shift manager's desk, he had an unholy grin on his face.
"M-marshal Larabee?" The officer, a grizzled veteran of the department, asked, "is something wrong?"
Chris wiped all expression from his face. He occasionally forgot how scary his smile could be. "Sir, there is a crime scene nearby that needs to be secured, and fingerprinting conducted to determine whether the fugitive Ezra Standish was on the scene."
"Alright," the manager agreed readily at the sound of the former agent's name, "where is this crime scene?"
Chris said deadpan, "In this station."
The shift manager was agape. "It's where?"
+ + + + + + +
Ezra's next stop was the department of motor vehicles. He needed to check the plates of the black sedan that had run a red light as he was being arrested. It might be nothing, or it could just be the clue he had missed while keeping his silence during the trial.
The only complication was...how to retrieve the information. He doubted the low-key option would work. If Larabee's team was half as good as Ezra suspected, then his janitor ruse had already been exposed, and at 32, he looked too old to be a high school or college student coming in to volunteer. No, the high profile option would be his best bet. Beside, Ezra loved pulling this con
Ezra went to a thrift store and found a decent suit. It was nowhere near the quality he usually wore, but it would fit this part perfectly--that of the lowly civil servant whose ego and small amount of power outweighed both his good sense and his pocketbook. Ezra stared at himself in a window as he approached the nearest DMV location. He marched through the doors as though he owned the place; after all, the character he had adopted did run this specific establishment. He knew he needed to act quickly. Even with the baby powder he had added to his hair to make it look grayer and the thick glasses he wore, Ezra suspected that the marshal whose expertise had been listed as computers--the one on the website who had looked no older than 16--would see through this disguise in seconds. If that boy was lucky or clever enough to guess where Ezra was headed, then a swift departure might be in order.
Ezra cut through the lines, a glower on his face and a slight hitch in his step. Approaching the youngest of the clerks--a woman in her twenties, whose body language said she was new to the job and uncertain of her capabilities--Ezra demanded, "I need to see your records on a pah-tic-u-lah vehicle."
The young woman looked flustered, but managed to rally, saying, "Sir, you'll need to wait in line like everybody else."
The cold stare Ezra leveled at her was enough to stop any further protests. "Do you know who I am?" The former FBI agent kept his voice low, menacing but not loud enough to draw the attention of the other clerks nearby. When the young woman could not find her voice to reply, Ezra pushed onward. "I am Elbert P. Saunders, director of these..." he glanced around and sneered, "sorry examples of civic discipline." Refocusing his disapproving gaze on the unfortunate young woman, Ezra continued, "If you wish to keep your job, you will have all the information associated with this plate ready for me within thirty seconds." Ezra dropped a scrap of paper that had the black sedan's license plate scrawled on it in perfect handwriting.
Terrified, the young woman snatched up the piece of paper, quickly typed in the information, and then started to relay it to Ezra. Instead of waiting, Ezra requested that she print out the details. She went to collect the paper, but it took a few interminable minutes, because the printer was backed up with other jobs.
+ + + + + + +
"You guys are lucky to have me," JD commented to the van at large. He was typing away furiously at the computer, trying to track down the license plate numbers that Vin and Chris had found. The others ignored him. "I mean, if I weren't here to hack into the DMV for you, you'd have to go down there in person, wait for two hours in a line, and then get told to come back with a warrant..." JD's voice trailed off as he realized something. "Chris? How do you think Ezra Standish is tracking this down?"
Chris swore and put the car into a skidding turn. Buck grinned, Nathan rolled his eyes, Vin looked at Chris in sympathy, Josiah said a silent prayer, and JD clutched his computer as it threatened to fly out through the front windshield. Three minutes later, they were approaching the DMV closest to the police station that Standish had infiltrated.
+ + + + + + +
Ezra was glancing over his shoulder impatiently, both in character and to check for the ever-talented 7th District, Colorado U.S. Marshal Team. Much to his surprise, he saw six men disembarking from a plumber's van. Even from across this distance, Ezra recognized the tall, lean, black-clad figure. Knowing that he could not waste any more time, Ezra walked around the back of the counter, deftly grabbed the correct paper just as the young woman was about to pick it up. Giving her a dazzling smile--which was completely out of character, but was also the least he could do to compensate the woman for how he had treated her previously--Ezra thanked her graciously and ducked out the back door marked "Driving Test Area".
He hurriedly approached the car at the head of the line for testing. It was a sports car, old enough that it would probably not have LoJack but not so old as to be unreliable. Both the student driver and the instructor were outside the car, going through some paperwork. The new driver looked ecstatic; he must have just passed his driving test, and in his excitement, the inexperienced driver had left the keys on the driver's seat. Ezra almost felt guilty about stealing the car...until he remembered who was chasing him. There was something unnatural and unnerving about Larabee's anger and determination. The man was a force of nature. And the Dunne boy...well, Ezra had never encountered a cleverer opponent in tactics. The rest, Ezra was certain, had played a role in the close game of cat-and-mouse that the former FBI agent was playing with the team of U.S. Marshals, but he did not know them well enough to guess what those roles might have been. So, as Ezra slid into the driver's seat and thrust the keys into the ignition, he felt very little compunction...because he did not want to run into Larabee again, at least, not yet.
Ezra abandoned the stolen sports car in a parking garage, putting a polite note of apology and some of Charles Solomon's bills under the windshield wiper. Then he walked to a nearby park, sat on a bench, and read the information the young woman at the DMV had given him. When he realized the implications, Ezra walked to the nearest payphone and dialed the extension to the office next door to Charlie Solomon's. Speaking with a Midwestern accent, Ezra claimed to have seen that escaped felon, and the news had said to contact the FBI. Was Agent Solomon around, by any chance?
Barely a minute later, Charlie Solomon picked up the call and dismissed the other agent from his own office. Solomon could get away with that, he was days away from retirement, and the sentiment around the field office was that they ought to humor the old man...after all, he'd been chasing down leads while most of the junior agents were still in diapers. When he was certain he was alone, Charlie spoke harshly into the phone. "Sir, I don't know what you think you saw, but it was not Ezra Standish. He's too smart to let anyone find him--"
"I know, old friend," Ezra replied softly, a note of amusement in his voice.
"Ezra, is that you?" Charlie asked in surprise. "Where are you? You shouldn't stay in the city; it isn't safe for you here..."
Ezra smiled. "I can prove it, Charlie. I know who killed Dave."
There was silence on the line, evidently Charlie was shocked. Then, he said, "You can? Who was it, and how do you know? This is great, Ezra!"
Ezra took a slow, deep breath before responding. "It was Agent Nolen, who did it at Deputy Director Hayworth's request. I found evidence of the car that was there the night Dave was murdered. Agent Nolen checked the car out, but it was Deputy Director Hayworth's signature on the release form. They must have been in it together...siphoning Bureau funds into their own private accounts. I don't know how Dave found out, but they killed him for it."
Charlie sighed into the phone and then said, his voice heavy, "I'm sorry, Ezra, but if you're right, we'll never be able to prove anything or get the money back. Agent Nolen was in a bad car accident around the time David was killed, and Hayworth was walking home one night three months ago when someone tried to take his money and then shot him. Hayworth is dead and Nolen lost use of his legs. Ezra, did you hear me?"
Now the silence came from the other end. Ezra held the phone limply in his hands for a moment, not believing what he heard, but this was Charles Solomon, the greatest agent of his time, and Ezra's mentor. Charlie would not lie to him. Recovering from his shock, Ezra brought the phone up to his ear again and said, "Thank you for telling me, my friend. Perhaps I will leave the vicinity as you suggest." Ezra hung up the phone before he could change his mind.
Ezra wondered if the world really had such a macabre sense of humor. The traffic report from the station had said nothing about a crash. Was it possible? Had Nolen been so nervous when fleeing the crime scene that he had crashed and made himself a paraplegic? Briefly, Ezra rejoiced that Fate had dealt a crushing blow to his partner's murderer, but then his resolve hardened. Loss of legs was a far cry from loss of life.
With determination and anger lengthening his stride, Ezra headed on foot for Agent Nolen's apartment, which he had retrieved from the department of motor vehicles.
+ + + + + + +
"Where would he go?" JD asked the group at large, but received no immediate answer. Josiah looked tired, Vin seemed frustrated, Buck was sighing, Nate shook his head at the information the DMV clerk had printed out for Ezra Standish, and Chris looked even angrier than usual.
Finally, Nate tapped the paper and commented that Standish seemed to be unduly interested in this retired agent named Keith Nolen. Rather than race over to the place, Chris ordered JD to place a call to Mr. Nolen. As far as Chris was concerned, they'd chased after Standish for long enough...it was time to start thinking smarter and get a few steps ahead of the disgraced agent.
JD placed the call, and Mr. Nolen picked up. The retired agent answered all of JD's questions politely, saying that, no, no one had been to visit him today. Was anything wrong? JD assuaged the man's fears, stating that it was probably a false alarm, and then hung up. The look on his face was enough for every man present to see how the conversation had gone, but he still reported, "Nothing. What now?"
+ + + + + + +
Ezra kicked in the door rather than wait for his partner's killer to open up. Storming into the first floor apartment, Ezra quickly located the agent, who was now wheelchair-bound. Sneering in disgust and shaking with rage, Ezra walked up to the man and slammed his chair back into the nearest wall. "Why did you do it?" Ezra demanded, his voice a low, menacing hiss. "Dave Kingsley was a damn good agent and my best friend. What gave you the right to kill him?"
The retired agent tried to look confused, but Ezra had written the book on telling lies. So, when Agent Nolen stammered, "I don't know what you're talking about. I'm going to have to ask you to leave..."
Ezra was not convinced. His face suddenly became expressionless, and his eyes cold with promised vengeance. "The authorities have you on running the red light the night you killed Dave. Charlie Solomon told me that you were working with Hayworth. Did you kill him too? Was he going to turn you in?" Ezra grinned in mock sympathy. "That must sting, being betrayed by the man who hired you in the first place. All I want to know is...why?" Agent Nolen began chuckling, almost hysterical. Ezra asked, "Have I missed something humorous, Mr. Nolen?"
The retired agent took a deep breath and smirked. "I don't care what happens to me. Without the job...I have nothing. I'm surprised though; you had a reputation for being intelligent. Why did I kill Agent Kingsley? A few of us were skimming out of Bureau funds, just enough to ensure our retirements. Hayworth got greedy, wanted to keep embezzling even after you'd taken the fall, but the boss wouldn't let him."
"The boss?" Ezra asked in confusion.
The retired agent shrugged. "Who else had the access and the position to pull it off? Agent Kingsley was starting to suspect. He had just called you, told you to come over. He'd finally pieced everything together, and then I killed him."
As the retired man's explanation drew to a close, Ezra realized who Agent Nolen meant by 'the boss'. It was something Agent Solomon had joked about frequently...that a dishonest man could make a killing in his position. "I don't believe you," Ezra said, but it was more a formality than a declaration. No other alternative made sense, and Agent Nolen was too broken by his disability to lie. Coming to a decision, Ezra forced Nolen to hand over his cell phone and exited the premises.
Standing just outside the one-storey structure, Ezra dialed a number he had seen on a television in a shop window en route to his current location. It was an eight-hundred number asking for information leading to one Ezra Standish's capture. With a smile for the irony, Ezra dialed and waited for someone to answer, drawing the tape recorder he had purchased at that same store before coming here. As the line rang, he rewound the tape.
"U.S. Marshal's tip line," said a tired voice at the other end.
"My name is Ezra Standish," Ezra said, "I must speak to Marshal Larabee immediately."
"Hey, Chris," the voice, which was low-pitched, called out, "You've got another one claiming to be Standish. I swear, these have been coming in all day. He says he'll only talk to you."
After a few seconds, Ezra heard the other Marshal's voice, this time speaking directly into the mouthpiece. "This is Larabee."
Gathering his courage and wondering if he could reach his goal once the tenacious team was hot on his trail, Ezra took a gamble. Clearly they wanted evidence that he was truly their man before they would investigate. "Do you remember what I said to you in the tunnel?"
Ezra heard clicking on the other end, as though someone was snapping their fingers. 'Good,' he thought, 'at least they're tracing the call.'
With anger in his tone, Chris replied hotly, "I remember you were pointing my gun at me."
Ezra frowned. Did the man intend to hold that act against him? Surely Marshal Larabee would have acted no differently had their positions been reversed. "A necessary measure at the time, Marshal Larabee. Do you remember?"
Chris sighed into the phone. Ezra had the impression that this man hated being toyed with. "You said something about not killing your partner or stealing funds."
"And you replied that you did not care," Ezra said, his voice depressed. There was impartial, and then there was simply stupid. Ezra feared Larabee was slipping into the latter category.
"That's right, Standish," Chris Larabee said harshly. "I don't care. I'm not trying to solve a puzzle."
"Well, sir, I am," Ezra stated. In the background, Ezra heard a younger man's voice say in a too-loud whisper, 'Got him!' Time to end this charade, then. "I just found an important piece. When you arrive, take the tape off the roof and listen to it," Ezra concluded. He threw the phone onto the roof and placed the incriminating tape just beyond the gutter. Then he hailed a taxi and headed for the Atlanta Federal Building.
+ + + + + + +
"Ezra Standish?" Chris said into the phone as he heard a loud 'thump' at the other end. "Standish, answer me!" Taking the phone away from his ear, Chris addressed JD. "He didn't hang up, where is he?"
JD tapped a few more keys, double-checking something. "He's at a Mr. Nolen's address, using a cellular phone registered to the resident."
Amid a storm of curses and sighs, the van rocketed toward retired agent Nolen's house, and toward whatever breadcrumb Standish had deemed to leave them.
+ + + + + + +
Marshal Team Seven obeyed; Standish was simply too good. They had no other leads, and thus could only hope that the capable convicted agent had left more clues than the ones he had intended.
Chris, Vin and JD listened to the tape while Josiah, Nathan and Buck questioned the retired agent. After a few minutes, the Marshals began to understand why Standish had chosen to return to Atlanta. They all piled into Chris' vehicle and sped for the Atlanta Federal Building, hoping they were not too late to stop the innocent convict from becoming a murderer.
+ + + + + + +
"You did it," Ezra accused as he stormed into the conference room where Charles Solomon was briefing several agents. "You killed Agent Kingsley." Glancing around the room to gather support, Ezra continued, "He's the one who embezzled those funds, and then had David killed when he learned of it. They set me up to take the fall. It would have been perfect; I would never speak of the money's location because I did not know it. Isn't that right, my old friend?" Ezra could not prevent the bitter sarcasm that snuck into his voice for the last three words.
Charles Solomon smiled nervously. "Would you excuse us, please?" Agent Solomon gestured to the door Ezra had entered by, "Perhaps we could continue this discussion somewhere more...private."
Ezra agreed and followed Charles Solomon out of the conference room. He knew it was probably a trap, but no longer cared. If he could take Solomon with him into that trap, his own demise would be worthwhile.
Out in the office area, Agent Solomon immediately picked up a stapler, swung it at Ezra's head, and ran for the stairwell. Ezra shook his head to clear it, and then took off after Solomon before any of the agents and support personnel could react. Some recognized him, but the door had already shut behind Ezra before anyone moved.
Then, just as half the office had decided to chase Agent Standish, six men entered. The tall one, dressed all in black, ordered his men to their positions with quiet words and meaningful glances, and then he raised his voice. "Where is Agent Solomon?"
A few of the more nervous agents pointed shakily at the stairwell, and one muttered, "Standish went after him."
Chris Larabee nodded his understanding, but then glared at everyone in the office. "Standish is our fugitive. I want him taken alive," Chris' tone allowed for no argument, but still one of the agents chose to speak out.
"He killed one of ours, Marshal," The man clearly had a deathwish, or perhaps he was simply too arrogant to realize the danger he was putting himself in by talking back to the leader of Marshal Team Seven when the taciturn blond was in this particular mood. The sneer he put into the title 'marshal' clearly indicated that, though both men worked for the federal government, there was a hierarchy of organizations...and Marshal barely ranked above 'incompetent local lawmen'. "You don't expect us to just sit here while he kills Agent Solomon?"
Chris gave a predator smile. "That's exactly what I expect. Vin, JD, Josiah, and Nate...you keep the other agents here." Lowering his voice so that only the Marshal team could hear, he explained, "They're way too trigger-happy for my liking. Buck, you're with me."
Vin tried to protest, but Chris explained before Vin could even speak. "I know you're the better tracker, Vin, but I need someone down here who can keep control of the situation...with some well-placed warning shots if necessary."
Buck grinned ruefully and eyed Vin with envy. "I ain't that good. Don't worry; I'll look out for Chris." The look in Vin's eyes made Buck wonder just what Vin would do to him if he failed to keep that promise, and then the team split, four covering the office and two pounding up the stairs after Charles Solomon and Ezra Standish.
+ + + + + + +
"Ezra Standish!" A voice on a loudspeaker called out, "We have the building surrounded. All exits are blocked. Surrender and you will not be harmed!"
Seconds later, belying the earlier statement, the staccato sound of gunfire erupted across the roof, peppering the area indiscriminately with bullets. Chris threw himself flat against the wall and ordered Buck to contact JD and get rid of the helicopter. After about half a minute, the helicopter pulled away from the building's roof, and Chris gave a small sigh of relief.
"Did they have that thing on standby?" Chris asked Buck, who nodded.
"I guess the FBI doesn't take too kindly to one of their own going bad. It seems they'd rather carry out the execution themselves than wait for the law," Buck explained, and Chris scowled.
"They'll have to get in line," Chris stated determinedly, but his thoughts were directed toward Agent Solomon, not former Agent Standish.
As the pair of Marshals edged forward, sounds of glass breaking came from up ahead. Buck ran forward to see what had caused the noise, and then stared in amazement. "What the hell...?"
Chris caught up with Buck and was quite tempted to repeat his old friend's statement. Both Standish and Solomon had gone through a skylight and landed on an elevator. It was a freight elevator, so half the ceiling was open and Solomon had fallen through to the elevator car's floor whereas Standish had come to a more abrupt stop on the roof of the car. Chris shook his head and grabbed his cell phone, dialing JD's number. "Kid, get on a computer. Hack into this building's maintenance or security system...whatever it takes. Tell me where the north-eastern elevator stops, and have Josiah meet us down there to clear that floor." Snapping the phone shut in frustration, Chris started jogging back to the stairwell, Buck following close behind.
+ + + + + + +
Ezra came back to awareness with a jolt. He had been chasing someone, and then they fell...his memory returned with sickening speed. Ezra felt the elevator shudder to a halt and saw movement below. Solomon was escaping!
Stifling a groan for fear that it would give away his position, Standish rolled off the top of the elevator car and landed--somewhat less gracefully than he normally would have--on the floor. Extending a hand, he stopped the elevator door from closing, and slipped through. His gun had been lost somewhere on the elevator or in the shaft, and Solomon probably still had his weapon.
'That won't be a problem,' Ezra silently reassured himself. 'The winner of a fight is not always the one with more firepower, but the one with greater cunning.' Ezra's self-confidence shrank as he recalled that Agent Solomon had been the one to teach him that very lesson. Slinking through the floor that the elevator had stopped on, Ezra could hear more sound than would be caused by just himself and his one-time mentor.
"Ezra Standish?" a familiar voice called out, the sound of it rebounding and resonating among the pipes and machinery. "Come on, Standish...you're finished. Your only way out of this is with me!"
Ezra smirked. He sincerely doubted that statement. Ezra could have easily slipped past any number of law enforcement personnel--and had already proven so, after the bus crash--but Ezra wanted to stay to get revenge for his partner.
In the distance, Ezra heard something sliding, and then a brief yell before something hit the ground solidly. 'One down,' Ezra thought morosely, 'but I wonder which one?'
"Ezra, I know you're innocent!" Chris Larabee said loudly. The voice was closer, but Ezra was not afraid. He had intentionally headed for the Marshal, just to see what the man was up to. Solomon, Ezra knew; Larabee, he didn't. "Your partner called you to tell you about Solomon and Hayworth, but Nolen got to him first. We found your tape, and Nolen's talking, Standish. We can clear you, but you've got to turn yourself in." Ezra heard Chris Larabee sigh. "Look, Standish, I didn't shoot you when you were a fugitive, and I don't plan on starting now. What's it going to be?"
Ezra saw the man who had been taken by surprise earlier. The dark-haired, mustached man was unconscious, laid out on the floor, and not making use of his sidearm. Ezra took the weapon and drew the hammer back slowly, using his sleeve to muffle the noise. He crept back to where he had last heard Marshal Larabee's voice. When he snuck a glance around the corner, Ezra nearly lost his legendary cool.
Solomon was good. He had worked the most dangerous cases for the majority of his career and still made it to retirement. The office would probably be planning his retirement party for some time next week. That being said, Solomon's stealth skills were superior to Standish's, especially since Ezra had been preoccupied with stealing Marshal Wilmington's gun. While Ezra had been arming himself, Solomon had come up behind Marshal Larabee and was now aiming a gun at the imposing blond man's back. Standing at least twelve feet behind Solomon, Ezra switched his aim from Solomon's head to a pipe several feet above the dirty agent. Specifically, he targeted the S-shaped hook holding the heavy, wide pipe in place. Ezra took aim, let out half his breath, slowed his thoughts, and fired...just as Agent Charlie Solomon had taught him years ago.
As Ezra fired, Solomon was momentarily distracted. Rather than firing on the Marshal who knew too much, Solomon tried to turn and take on the more immediate threat, but found the threat to be a stainless steel pipe too wide for him to dodge.
New Solomon's gun discharged, and Agent Solomon fell to the floor, barely clinging to consciousness. Angrily, Ezra stalked over to where the fallen agent lay, kicking the gun from his mentor's hand and shakily aiming his borrowed weapon at the man's head.
Chris spun, took in all these events, and started moving slowly toward Ezra Standish. Trying to talk Standish out of his choice, Chris said, "If that's how you want it, I'll say he tried to kill me, and you stopped him. It won't be too far off the truth. But I think you know this isn't right. An agent with your training...you must have had the opportunity to kill him, but you chose to disarm him instead. What do you really want for David, Agent Standish?"
Ezra felt his breath heaving in his chest. His eyesight became watery, and he couldn't understand why. Ezra's right hand shook even worse when he removed the left one from around his right to brush the tears away. "There would be questions if Agent Solomon died of unnatural causes," Ezra whispered, his voice harsh and unrecognizable, even to himself.
Chris shrugged. "So? I'm sure a man like you doesn't care what other people think."
"Nolen will not be convicted, Marshal Larabee," Ezra stated calmly. If the man was smart, he had already contacted a lawyer who would know how to play the sympathy card with the jury. Ezra's hands stopped shaking as his mind came to a different decision. "David will never have justice if I have my revenge right now." Slowly, the gun came down, as if of its own accord. "David was a better man than I...he deserves justice."
Chris gave a tight smile. The marshal did not believe that Ezra was nearly as bad as he gave himself credit for. Chris handcuffed Agent Solomon and read the man his rights, then sat the traitor back down and glared, silently telling the man to stay where he was. "We should get ready. Your coworkers will have heard the shots, and if they see you in anything but handcuffs..." Chris let the apologetic statement trail off.
Ezra shrugged. He might have winced, but the man was so darn unreadable that Chris dismissed it as fatigue. Chris put Ezra in handcuffs and headed for the nearest passenger elevator. Josiah met them, gun drawn, before they had gone five steps.
Josiah glanced from the subdued villain, to the fugitive in restraints, and then took note of the twisted metal hook that had held the pipe in place. Looking in open admiration at his boss, Josiah commented, "That was a hell of a shot, Chris."
Chris snorted. "That wasn't me. Solomon had me dead to rights, but Standish took him out with the pipe before he could shoot me."
Ezra sighed mournfully, and complained, "It was a dreadful shot. I was aimin' for Mistah Solomon's head, but I was encumbered by the debris on the floor."
Chris laughed, and then informed Josiah, "We'd better get Nate up here. I think Buck took a blow to the head." Josiah grabbed Solomon, and the four men met up with Atlanta police officers that JD had called ahead for. Josiah relinquished Solomon to their custody, informing them that the charges were conspiracy to commit murder, and embezzlement of government funds. Chris handed Standish off to Josiah and contacted JD. After a few brief words, the members of Marshal Team Seven agreed to meet out at Chris' truck, which was in front of the Federal Building. Chris, Josiah and Ezra took the elevator down to the lobby, recognizing that Ezra, with his hands cuffed behind his back, probably would not have very good balance.
Even before they approached the doors, Chris could see the glare of lights, both from police cars and from reporter's cameras. Scowling, Chris took off his black sports jacket and draped it around Standish's shoulders. Since Chris was taller and slightly broader in the shoulders than Ezra, the jacket effectively hid what the reporters wanted to see--namely, the handcuffs. Agent Standish had already taken this walk once, and unjustly. Chris was adamant that the wronged man not be embarrassed again.
The instant they were through the doors, the reporters swarmed. Cops and the occasional off-duty FBI agent were loath to prevent the flocking of vultures; most of them still thought Ezra Standish was guilty. With a look, Chris instructed Josiah to push ahead, to clear a path for them through the shouting crowd. Without using any intimidation but his sizeable frame, Josiah did just that. As they reached the edge of the reporters, Chris tossed Josiah the keys to his vehicle and handed off Ezra. "Get him to the truck, I'll deal with these guys," Chris said, quietly enough that only Josiah and Ezra heard.
When Chris turned to face the reporters, they instantly recognized a man who was about to make a statement, so of course, they began shouting questions and pushing microphones close to his face. Chris raised a hand for silence and, amazingly, received it. He opened his mouth to speak, a warning, predatory smile on his face and his gaze hard as it bore into each and every camera lens that was shoved his way. Very distinctly, he enunciated the words, "No comment," and glared one last time before pivoting and striding over to his truck.
Josiah unlocked the door for him, chuckling. "I think they're dumbfounded," Josiah commented. Sure enough, only the most seasoned reporters had recovered from the threat Chris had delivered...without actually saying anything that would get the Marshals in trouble!
Buck was wheeled out of the building in a stretcher next, Nate and JD following closely. Vin walked at a more sedate pace, following the police officers who had taken custody of Agent Solomon. He watched the officers carefully until they put Solomon into the back of a squad car and drove off. Evidently satisfied that the officers had adhered to procedure, Vin went over to the ambulance, which had just pulled up, and which Buck was being loaded in to. Even from the distance of his truck, Chris could tell that Nate was arguing that he should be allowed to ride along, JD was insisting that he could look after Buck, and Vin, having received a reassuring glance from the paramedic, was simply enjoying the drama. Eventually, Vin steered Nathan away from the ambulance, and JD clambered into the back before anyone could protest. The paramedic looked from the young Marshal, to the monitors, and then to Buck and back, noting some incredible change in the injured Marshal's vitals, and then shrugged in defeat, closing both doors behind him.
In the truck, Chris offered to remove Standish's handcuffs, but the cocky southerner was already passing them back to the bewildered Marshal before Chris could even take the keys out of his pant pocket. Chris accepted the handcuffs and shook his head in amazement. "Marshal Larabee," Ezra Standish teased, "I thought you didn't care."
Chris nearly growled in exasperation. "Keep doing things like that and I won't."
Vin and Nathan reached the truck and boarded it--Nate still complaining about his patient being prematurely taken to the hospital without him--and Josiah pulled into the sparse traffic, avoiding reporters and patrolmen along the way. A few blocks later, Standish gave a small groan. Chris looked over in concern. He was good at reading people, and though one of the first things Standish had ever said to him was a griping comment, Chris did not believe that the man would express pain non-verbally without good cause.
"What is it, Agent Standish?" Chris queried, hoping that using the man's title would make him more forthcoming.
"Nothing, I assure you, Marshal Larabee," Ezra replied easily, but Chris could hear the strain in the man's voice. "I am feeling a bit under the weather, but that is most likely an unfortunate side effect of incapacitating one's own mentor and friend."
Chris snorted. "You shouldn't be feeling sick," he insisted, and then called, "Nate?"
Nathan and Vin had piled into the far back row of seats while Chris shared the middle bench with Standish and Josiah drove. Chris and Nate changed seats at a stop light, to an accompaniment of Agent Standish's myriad and verbose protests. "There is nothing to fear, Marshals. I certainly feel better than I had expected, and there is no need for undesired medical probing of my various--what are you doing?"
Chris and Vin both smirked at the southerner's discomfort as Nathan removed first Ezra's borrowed jacket and then started in on Ezra's shirt. Carefully, Nathan maintained eye contact with Ezra, rather than letting on about what he saw. How the former fugitive was unaware of his condition, Nathan could not guess, but that he remained ignorant of it would probably be the deciding factor in whether the man went into shock. "I need to examine you, Agent Standish," Nate said evenly. "Now, you can sit back and let me, or I can sedate you. Which would you prefer?"
Ezra scowled. "Neither, my good sir, but if I must submit to this undignified display, let me at least proceed with my consciousness intact."
Nate chuckled as he examined the wound. "Well, I guess you don't have a concussion."
"Really?" Ezra replied, "Because I have the most atrocious headache...I was certain there must be some medical cause for it."
Nate did not reply that there definitely was a medical cause; Ezra was not yet prepared to hear that. Instead, he dug out the medical supply kit and took out the antiseptic and bandages. If the bullet was still in Ezra's shoulder wound--which Nate doubted because the bleeding was so profuse--Nathan would not be able to extract the projectile until the car stopped moving, preferably at a hospital.
Ezra took one look at the bandages, and then glanced at his own bare chest. When he saw the wound and the amount of blood that had already seeped into the seat around him, Ezra began hyperventilating.
Swiftly, Nathan turned to Josiah, saying "Get us to a hospital, now!" When he returned his attention to Ezra and attempted to stop the bleeding, Ezra began lashing out. He caught Nathan a glancing blow to the side of the head, and Nate tumbled back against the front passenger seat. Looking past Ezra to Chris and Vin, Nathan ordered, "Hold him, I need to get that bleeding stopped."
The wiry agent put up a surprisingly tenacious fight, but finally Chris and Vin's determination combined with Ezra's blood loss to make Ezra too weak to resist. Nathan bandaged the wound and covered Ezra with everyone's coats, trying to prevent the man from going into shock. Minutes later, Josiah expertly maneuvered Chris' truck past cars and ambulances, getting as close to the hospital's emergency entrance as possible.
Nathan ran ahead to get help, Josiah picked up the southerner as though he weighed nothing, Vin went along to make sure the hospital staff listened to Nate, and Chris parked the truck in the lot.
Chris entered the hospital after the others and nearly ran headlong in to JD, who was beaming. "Hey, Chris," JD gushed, "They say Buck's gonna be fine. He said to tell you he deserves at least a week in the hospital, because you promised him ladies. Is that true? How did you know we were at this hospital?"
Chris gave a small smile at the kid's energy and enthusiasm. Then, the expression faded as he recalled why they had come to this hospital. "The rest of the team came here with Standish," Chris explained. "None of us realized he'd been shot...I don't think even he knew until Nate tried to dress the wound. By then, Ezra had lost a lot of blood. We got him here as fast as we could," Chris chuckled. "Josiah put my truck through some moves even I haven't tried with it, but..." Chris sighed, "we just don't know if we got him here in time."
JD's face fell as the explanation progressed. By the end, it was a mask of denial and sorrow. "No, he can't die," JD said obstinately. "We caught the bad guys, his name is cleared, his partner's killers are going to answer for their crimes...he can't...this isn't how it's supposed to end." JD sank into a nearby chair, though, from his stance, Chris was pretty certain that had there been no furniture in the area, JD could as easily have slid down a wall to the floor.
Chris remained standing, his arms crossed. Rather than immediately comfort the young man, because any reassurances he provided could be just false hope, Chris repeated the statement he had asked the man the first time they had met. "Do you still think you're the type, kid? Do you think you're cut out for this kind of work? This isn't the last time you'll sit around a hospital, praying for the best but expecting the worst. The good guys don't always win. Even when they do, sometimes one of them pays the ultimate price."
For a moment, JD looked defeated, but slowly the young man raised his head and locked gazes with Chris. "How do you handle it, sir?"
Chris swallowed nervously and looked away. The way he handled grief was not the best advice to give to another person, as it involved too much whiskey and lashing out at one's friends in undeserved bouts of violence. "It's not my place to say. What do you think you should be doing?"
JD paused for only a moment to think before his face cracked into a shadow of his customarily jubilant smile. "Buck's been stabilized, so...where's our fugitive?"
Chris and JD found out from the nurse's station that Standish was still in surgery, but that they could wait in the fourth floor lounge. As Chris walked up the stairs to the fourth floor--JD in tow--he marveled at the young man's resolve and resilience. Chris remembered the first death he had witnessed (back when he was with the Seals teams), and he had not been anywhere near as collected and thoughtful as JD seemed right now. Then again, JD had not yet witnessed the death of a colleague, so the young Marshal might still become depressed, bitter or violent. Chris remembered that only Buck had been able to keep those conflicting yet simultaneous emotions from driving him to something foolhardy after Sarah and Adam's deaths, so Chris privately decided to keep an eye on the kid, watch for the same symptoms Chris had suffered three years ago.
The five injury-free members of Marshal Team Seven waited impatiently for news of their former quarry's condition. Finally, a doctor came into the waiting area, glanced doubtfully around the room at the men gathered there, and eventually said, "Are you the ones here with Ezra Standish?" Chris answered for everyone, demanding an update on Agent Standish's condition. The doctor looked uncomfortable. "Usually, we only discuss a patient's health with family, but since this is a matter of law enforcement, I guess I can make an exception. Ezra Standish, in addition to significant blood loss, was malnourished and exhausted when admitted. We have stabilized him for the moment. He will be moved to ICU. I presume you will want to put a guard outside his room, so we'll have hospital security staff--"
"Wouldn't do ya much good," Vin commented, and silently the other men of Team Seven agreed. Give Standish any breathing room whatsoever and he would find a way to escape.
"Vin's right," Chris stated. In a firm tone of voice, Chris continued, "We'll post our own guard, inside his room. We'll need a private room. One of my Marshals was injured; I want him to be moved into the same room as Standish. Visiting hours don't apply to us."
Numbly, the doctor nodded, and half an hour later, the seven men were crowded into one small room. The first night, Standish flat-lined once and then slipped into a coma. Immediately after he realized something was wrong, Chris demanded an explanation from the doctor...an explanation and a solution.
"We don't know if he'll come out of this," the doctor stated calmly. "This could be an indicator that his body is shutting down, or it could be his body's way of gathering strength. Why are you so concerned? I thought he was a convict."
Chris snarled, but managed to stop himself from slamming the doctor into the nearest wall. His eyes two points of light green fury, Chris whispered, "He's your patient. You will give him every opportunity you would give your most respected patients, or I will have you brought up on charges. This man is part of a federal case against an FBI agent. We need him." Chris was not lying. Standish's testimony at disgraced Agent Solomon's trial would help.
The doctor sighed. "I'm sorry, I didn't understand. The best thing you can do is be there for him, let him know that there's something, someone to come back for."
Josiah, Nathan and Vin had gone to pick up some food, but JD stood in the doorway, and he overheard the dire diagnosis.
+ + + + + + +
"And then Buck stole my hat and tried to drop it in the hotel garbage. I intercepted it, and Buck and I wrestled. We knocked over a lamp, but Nathan caught it and Josiah separated us. Vin was laughing at us...not openly, but that look he has, you know, where you can tell he's laughing on the inside and he's smirking on the outside, and you don't know what the joke was...and then Chris came back and glared, and told us to get back to work finding you. Have you seen his glare? Gosh, it's really something. I don't know whether to admire him or be scared...I guess I just do a little of both." JD paused for a breath and then continued. He was alone in the room except for Buck, who was resting and Ezra, who was still showing no signs of improvement.
"You should've seen the guys after I tracked you back to Atlanta. Nate looked relieved that you were still alive. I didn't find out until later that Nathan knew, from when he found that guard at the train wreck, that you were a good person. The rest of us just thought we were chasing the most well-trained fugitive of our careers. Well, of my career, anyway. The others just started. You were their first case. I've been with the Marshals for six months. Look, the point is...you have to come back, you need to be alright. We solved the case; we can prove that you're innocent. Come on, Ezra. Wake up," JD pleaded.
"That ain't gonna work, kid," Buck corrected JD gently. "He probably needs his beauty rest."
JD glanced up and glared at the other Marshal, knowing that the older man was trying to discourage JD's hope.
From the doorway, Chris snorted. He'd come back from doing paperwork, incapable of staring at the four walls of the team's 'office' any longer. Nathan, Josiah, and Vin had come with him, but they were still down the hall a ways. "Standish is so contrary...you'd have more success telling him to stay in a coma."
"Chris," JD started to complain, but then there was movement from Ezra's hospital bed.
There was darkness and pain, and Ezra was grateful when both faded to a floating, gray indifference. He would have gladly stayed in that state, but voices kept calling out. Ezra drifted toward the one he had known longer, to his partner, Dave Kingsley.
"Ez, what are you doing?"
Ezra sighed. "My fist name has two syllables. How many times must I remind you of that fact? As for my whereabouts and activities, I have been speaking with old friends."
"You figured it out," David Kingsley's voice was just as Ezra remembered it, soft, cultured and always carrying a tone that seemed surprised that anyone bothered to care about him.
"Of course I did," Ezra stated, his tone affronted. "It took me a while, but I finally found the despicable responsible parties."
Ezra felt assurance in David's voice. "Thank you, my friend. But now you need to go back. There are good men waiting for you. They want to help you, if you'll let them."
Ezra chuckled morosely. "You mean, if I trust them. You know how unlikely that is, Dave." Ezra waited for David Kingsley to make some rejoinder, but there was only silence. "Dave?"
His attention was drawn by another voice, talking about infernal baseball caps and the antics of United States Marshals. Another voice stated that Ezra needed his rest, and then Ezra heard Chris Larabee chuckle and say that Ezra was so contrary that telling Ezra to stay in a coma would meet with more success. As JD protested, Ezra clawed his way out of the gray state.
"I take great offense, Marshal Larabee," Ezra whispered, his throat dry and voice weak. "I am never contrary without good reason. You and your team simply provided me with more opportunity than I customarily experience."
Buck laughed, JD took off running to find a doctor, and Chris entered the room fully as JD exited. Chris strode over to Ezra's hospital bed, pinning Ezra in place with a mock glare, "Don't ever run out on me again."
Ezra smirked and glanced at Buck. "Is he always so demanding?"
Buck grinned. "Pretty much. Good to have you back, Agent. It was touch and go for a while there."
The rest of Marshal Team Seven poured into the room, and Ezra was completely swamped by the concern of the men who had, until quite recently, been his enemies. JD returned with the doctor, who insisted that Ezra needed to rest. Ezra scowled and replied that he had languished in this medical institution for far too long already. The seven men chatted and joked for a few hours, but were interrupted by three policemen pouring into the room.
Those capable of it were instantly on their feet and defending Ezra, even before the officers stated the charges.
"We've been instructed to take him into custody," The leader of the three men stated, trying to glare Chris and the other Marshals into submission. Six men stared back with hostility, five standing between Ezra and the policemen and the sixth trying to roll out of bed to join them.
"On what charge?" Josiah asked, his deep, rumbling voice conveying the danger the patrolmen would subject themselves to if they decided to arrest Ezra.
"Grand theft auto, breaking and entering, assault..." The lead policeman sneered. "I could continue, but there's not much point. We all know Standish is dirty. Why are you protecting him?"
Chris glared at the policemen's leader. "Standish is not guilty. Maybe you missed the news yesterday...Agents Solomon, Hayworth and Nolen were the dirty agents. Standish was just a convenient patsy. If you try to take him in on those trumped-up charges," Chris smiled, and the three police officers flinched in unison, "things will get ugly."
"And I do hate ugly," Buck stated, stumbling off the bed to stand beside his coworkers. JD helped Buck to remain standing.
"But, these are our orders..." one of the other police officers stammered, confused.
"Perhaps I can resolve this," said a voice from the hallway.
"Judge Travis," Chris called out, and the policemen allowed the judge to pass them, entering the already-crowded room.
"Agent Standish, can I offer you a position with Marshal Larabee's team?"
Ezra sighed dramatically, but privately he was shocked and relieved that these rivals were defending him. "What a pity that, as a convicted and presently accused felon, I will be unable to lend my services."
Judge Travis chuckled, recognizing a man who was angling for something. After years on the bench, the judge knew how to spot a man of good character. Standish, however, was still a mystery to him. "What if I could arrange for a pardon? Given the extreme circumstances, it will not be difficult to arrange."
Ezra smirked. "Where do I sign?"
The judge dismissed the policemen and turned to the seven men. "One of my contacts in this city informed me that the FBI was still trying to make something stick, trying to at least send Ezra to prison for a few years for betraying Solomon. Most of the Bureau can't believe that Solomon went bad. As long as you stick with these men, Standish," the judge indicated Marshal Team Seven, "you should be safe from the FBI's wrath."
Smiling, Ezra stated, "They can be decidedly...over-protective and resolute in their determination."
The judge's mirthful expression dropped suddenly. "I know the team isn't at its full strength, but once Wilmington and Standish are released, Chris, I want the team to work a prisoner transport. A convicted felon offered to turn on his superiors for a reduced sentence, and he's being transported through Colorado on his way to California. You only need to accompany him through our state; another team will take over at the border. So, what do you say? Will all of you stay on as Marshals?"
JD shrugged, but smiled. "I'm in if everyone else is."
Josiah said contemplatively, "A man could stay pretty busy in a job like this."
Nathan sighed. "I figure if you're going to be getting shot, I might as well stick around."
Buck grinned. "There's probably a few women in Colorado that I'm not acquainted with yet."
Judge Travis indicated Vin and Chris by nodding his head in their direction. "How about you guys; you interested?"
Cryptically, Vin said, "I've got some things that need takin' care of, but I guess they'll keep."
"Chris?" the judge inquired, still slightly fearful that the man in black would slip back into his violent, self-destructive ways if this job proved too trying.
Chris looked around the room at the gathering of men that he now commanded. A scoundrel, a sniper, a medic, a preacher, a kid...and a cheater. He tried to frown, but the expression got turned around by the prospect of working with this unique group on a daily basis. "I've got a feeling I'm going to regret this."
Judge Travis smiled and excused himself from the room. With the addition of Standish to the team, Judge Travis felt that the new group was finally complete. He had a feeling that Marshal Team Seven would quickly become a legend.